‘Awful’ autumn: Yet another record COVID-19 caseload, hospitalizations, positivity up — and ‘it’s not over yet’

“We’re monitoring the numbers closely, and additional statewide action is possible,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

SHARE ‘Awful’ autumn: Yet another record COVID-19 caseload, hospitalizations, positivity up — and ‘it’s not over yet’
Robert Weinberg, 71, sits and eats in Kopi Tavern Cafe’s outdoor dining area in the Andersonville neighborhood in October.

Robert Weinberg, 71, sits and eats in Kopi Tavern Cafe’s outdoor dining area in the Andersonville neighborhood in October.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Illinois reported another record-breaking total of 12,623 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, hospitals in some parts of the state are packed with triple the number of coronavirus patients they saw during the first wave of the pandemic and the peak of the skyrocketing autumn surge is still nowhere in sight.

“These numbers are awful,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “Even where things are not as awful, things are still bad.”

“We need to gird ourselves for winter because it’s not over yet ... We have potentially months of the fight ahead of us,” he said.

For now, the state’s main weapon in that fight is local enforcement of masking and social distancing guidelines, according to the Democratic governor — but he hasn’t ruled out more serious action such as the stay-at-home order that helped bend Illinois’ springtime curve. The entire state is now under enhanced “mitigation” efforts including a ban on indoor bar and restaurant service, while some regions have been saddled further with 10-person gathering limits.

“We’re monitoring the numbers closely, and additional statewide action is possible,” Pritzker said.

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Illinois has already added more than 93,000 COVID-19 cases over the first 10 days of November, compared to 117,000 during all of October when the virus began trending back upward.

In the last five days alone, 56,019 new cases have been reported. That’s more than Illinois saw in the first three months of the pandemic combined.

More than 511,000 people have now been confirmed to carry the virus in Illinois at some point since March — about 4% of the state population.More than a third of all cases have been diagnosed in the last month alone.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions from the media during a daily COVID-19 update at the James R. Thompson Center earlier this month.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions from the media during a daily COVID-19 update at the James R. Thompson Center last week.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The latest positive cases were confirmed among another record number of 101,955 tests submitted to the state, but they were enough to raise Illinois’ seven-day average testing positivity rate to 12%.

That number, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, has almost quadrupled in just over a month. It’s now at its highest point since mid-May.

Illinois hospitals are admitting their highest numbers of coronavirus patients in six months, too. On Monday night, 4,742 beds were taken up by COVID-19 patients, an increase of more than 300 people from the night before. The state averaged about 4,800 nightly hospitalizations at the height of the first wave.

Hospitals in Chicago and Cook County are still “a fair distance behind their worst hospitalization peaks in the spring” — by about half — but numbers have doubled in southern Illinois and more than tripled in the central and east-central regions.

“We must not let them become overrun,” Pritzker said, adding that hospital leaders “implore you to make sure that everyone wears a mask and stops gathering with a large number of people in your homes. They need your help.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health also announced 79 more deaths have been attributed to the virus, raising the state’s death toll to 10,289. Among the latest victims were 31 Chicago-area residents, including 20 from Cook County.

Chicago is at 13% positivity, adding almost 1,700 new cases per day. City Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady estimated there could be up to 145,000 active cases of COVID-19 citywide.

Nurse practitioner Capri Reese takes a minute to herself in an elevator after an 80-year-old man suffering from COVID-19 died at Roseland Community Hospital on April 28.

Nurse practitioner Capri Reese takes a minute to herself in an elevator after an 80-year-old man suffering from COVID-19 died at Roseland Community Hospital on April 28.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

“We are seeing these growths across every ZIP code in Chicago,” Arwady said. “Nothing has slowed down yet … We don’t know how far this is going to go.”

As for bending the curve, Arwady said, “We know how to do this. We did it once already. But I’ll tell you, when I am out in Chicago, I don’t see people taking this as seriously as we did back in April back in May.”

The governor did suggest there’s “light at the end of the pandemic tunnel” in the form of encouraging trial results on a potential COVID-19 vaccine, “but we just don’t know exactly when we will get there,” Pritzker said. “Let’s use the best tools that we have in the meantime.”

Chicago’s new tiered travel quarantine guide.

Chicago’s new tiered travel quarantine guide.

City of Chicago

The city also revamped its COVID-19 travel quarantine order with a tiered, color-coded system that now covers 43 states and Puerto Rico, all reporting high infection rates.

All non-essential travel is discouraged, but anyone arriving to Chicago from a “red” hot-spot state must self-isolate for two weeks. Travelers coming from orange hot spots must either arrive with a recent negative COVID-19 test result, or else isolate. Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana are among the current red states, while Michigan, Missouri and Kentucky are orange.

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